What is Hypersomnia? Types, Causes, and Symptoms

If you’re constantly yawning and even falling asleep during work or school, it may be more than a little fatigue. Hypersomnia, the medical term for excessive sleepiness, makes it difficult to stay awake during the day. People with this condition may also have low energy or difficulty thinking and making decisions. Learn the definition of hypersomnia and the causes of hypersomnia disorder in this guide.

What Are the Types of Hypersomnia?

So, what is hypersomnia and why is it so dangerous? It is difficult to define hypersomnia because the symptoms are so similar to those of other sleep disorders. Most professionals characterize this condition as the presence of excessive sleepiness. The best hypersomnia definition also includes the fact that this condition may cause people to sleep excessively in an attempt to eliminate fatigue. There are three major types of hypersomnia known to medical professionals.

Recurrent hypersomnia is a chronic form of this condition. People with this disorder struggle with extreme sleepiness on a regular basis and may sleep for as much as 20 hours each day. Organic hypersomnia, also called idiopathic hypersomnia or primary hypersomnia, is a condition characterized by many episodes of non-REM sleep. These episodes can last as long as two hours. This is not the same as narcolepsy because it does not involve loss of muscle control or falling asleep suddenly.

Post traumatic hypersomnia occurs when someone sustains damage to the central nervous system. Spinal cord injuries, meningitis, brain injuries and surgery on the brain or spine can cause this type of hypersomnia. Researchers from the department of neurology at University Hospital Zurich conducted a study to determine the relationship between traumatic brain injuries and sleep-wake disturbances. They studied 51 people with traumatic brain injury and found that 27 percent of them experienced post traumatic hypersomnia. The results of their study appeared in the December 2010 issue of the “Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.”

symptoms of hypersomnia

How Do I Know if I Have Hypersomnia?

The best way to know if you have hypersomnia is to record your symptoms. If they match the symptoms of hypersomnia, you should seek medical advice. One of the major hypersomnia symptoms is excessive daytime sleepiness, which differs from occasional bouts of fatigue. People with excessive daytime sleepiness may not be able to get through the day without napping. Hypersomnia suffers may need a nap so badly that they sleep at work or when they are supposed to be doing other things. Unfortunately, daytime naps provide little relief from the sleepiness that plagues people with this disorder. Hypersomnia also causes people to sleep for long periods of time. While someone without the disorder may be fine with just eight hours of sleep each night, someone with hypersomnia may sleep for 16 to 20 hours. Other symptoms of this sleep disorder include anxiety, difficulty waking up, irritability, restlessness, lack of energy, slow speech, hallucinations, loss of appetite, slow thinking and difficulty remembering things. Those with severe hypersomnia may lose the ability to work or socialize with others.

If you experience these symptoms for more than a few days, your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your sleep habits. Be prepared to share how many hours of sleep you get each night as well as whether you use any medications that can interfere with sleep. While there is no specific hypersomnia test, your doctor may order a CT scan, EEG or sleep test. These tests can help determine if you have hypersomnia or another sleep disorder.

What Causes Hypersomnia?

There are several hypersomnia causes, some of which you can control and others you cannot. One of the causes of hypersomnia you can control is being overweight. Dr. Alexandros N. Vgontzas, a psychiatrist at Penn State College of Medicine, studied the effects of obesity on sleep and fatigue. He and his colleagues found that obesity is linked to excessive daytime sleepiness. This link may be due to metabolic disturbances that are present in those with weight problems. Losing just 10 pounds can help improve the symptoms of hypersomnia and other sleep disorders. You can also control the amount of sleep you get each night and your use of drugs and alcohol. Not getting enough sleep for many nights in a row may trigger excessive daytime sleepiness and other sleep problems. Alcohol and drug abuse can also disrupt your sleeping patterns and make it difficult to get enough sleep each night.

Hypersomnia is a sign of narcolepsy, a nervous system disorder that causes extreme drowsiness and sleep attacks during the day. Scientists do not know the exact cause of this disorder, but some believe that it occurs due to a lack of hypocretin (a type of protein) in the body. Additional signs and symptoms of this sleep disorder include sleep paralysis, hallucinations and loss of muscle tone while awake. Sleep apnea is another one of the causes of hypersomnia. Obstructive sleep apnea causes episodes where a person stops breathing while sleeping. When the person starts breathing again, he or she might wake up suddenly, disrupting sleep and leading to excessive daytime sleepiness.

There are three other causes of this disorder that you cannot control. The presence of a brain injury seems to increase the risk for hypersomnia. Multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders have similar effects. Use of prescription sleep aids and tranquilizers can also cause hypersomnia. Some people who take these drugs experience a “hangover effect” because the drugs are still in effect during the day. This causes grogginess and daytime sleepiness, but these symptoms should improve if you stop taking the drug or adjust the dosage. Some people also experience hypersomnia because it runs in their families, but more research is needed to determine the role of genetics in this sleep disorder.

About Leigh Ann Morgan

I write about all sorts of things but ever since I completely got rid of my constant neck pain by finding the perfect pillow, I’ve started to learn as much as I can about sleep quality and sleep disorders.